DIVA: Love, Hope and High Heels is your first book. How
did you find the process of writing and publishing a poetry
collection, and how do you feel now it's on sale and shortlisted
for an award?
Clare Campbell: I am passionate about
books... it's my vice!!! I am dizzy about the feel of them and the
way I can get absorbed in them for days, so to have my own
published is a dream. Books have always saved me at the most
difficult of times and I love that people have fed back to me that
my book sits beside their bed and they reach for it when they need
some inspiration. That really is the most gorgeous accolade I could
The poems were written over a period of 20 years. I didn't
intend to get them published; they were all on scraps of paper and
the back of napkins - snippits of my journey through this funny old
life. Once I had got over my fear about them being good enough to
publish or not, it all happened quite easily. I find it's usually
our fear that hold us back. Helen Sandler from Tollington Press was
an amazingly encouraging and skilled editor and helped me find the
courage to believe in my writing.
After it was published, I was out shopping one day and was so
happy finding a copy in Waterstones - tucked between Raymond Carver
and Chaucer! I guess I would much rather be snug between some sassy
women poets - maybe I should change my name so I can squeeze in
next to Jackie Kay or Audre Lorde! It's great to be short-listed
for the Polari Prize and the publicity has brought it to a new
audience who may never have read it otherwise.
You've chosen a poem to share with DIVA readers (scroll
down to read it); can you tell us a bit about it?
Bread and Butter is one of my favourite poems - it brought me
much healing writing it. It's about my first girlfriend, the one I
never quite got over fully (maybe we all have one of
those). It is a love letter to her - a public way of
celebrating her and all she gave me. I bumped into her recently for
the first time in years and she had just bought a copy of the book
that day! She was a fantastic old-school lesbian and explained her
butch identity through the analogy of bread needing butter -
hard against soft - cake longing for cream. It made me
swoon! I was reading about the Bloomsbury Set at the time and
with her I felt like I had just stepped back into some gorgeous
romantic time from history. I was lucky to have such an amazing
first lesbian love experience.
Writing is just one of the things you do. Tell us about
I am an artist, a storyteller, a therapist and I facilitate
women's circles, retreats and workshops. For the last 15 years I
have run a social enterprise called Wild Woman, which I founded in
my 20s. I have been lucky enough to work with over 9,000 people in
prisons, schools, housing estates and refuges - inspiring
participants to heal issues that hold them back and to find
empowering ways to celebrate their creativity. They in turn have
inspired me with their stories and I am still in touch with many of
In the last year or two I have been focusing more on my own
creativity but the workshops created community and that remains
today. I recently went to the civil partnership of a fantastic
young woman who had come out after being on a Wild Woman programme.
I cried buckets!!! You can see her story in a film made about my
work called " I am not a statistic, I am a gorgeous possibility" Click here to watch
People joke that at least 10% of people who attend workshops
with me "come out" for the first time during the sessions. I
think that's because I am so open about my sexuality and joyful
about all the gifts its given me! I am currently writing a
book about lesbian women's spirituality and ways to celebrate our
Do you use poetry in your other work?
Yes, that's what inspired me to the write the book, really. I
was sharing my words and poems on my workshops and at conferences
and people started asking where they could get hold of my book. It
made me think that it might be possible to share my words in the
world, that others may be inspired by the writing. I used to reply
"watch this space" and then I thought, "Eek, I better get on with
What is it about poetry that makes it such an amazing,
universal way to communicate?
My poetry is very accessible and I think in sharing my thoughts
in this way it gives permission for others to articulate what's
unspoken within them. I see poetry as medicine for the soul - in
general it is usually short, like a yummy self-contained story that
people can utilise to make sense of their lives. It can be a
non-threatening way of breaking down barriers! Someone once called
me "subtly subversive - radical in a gentle way" - I think lots of
poetry can be like that.
I love it that the often initially homophobic young male
offenders I work with love listening to the lesbian love poetry in
my readings - one of them told me recently that he uses some of the
lines out of it to woo women!!! He said that he shouted across to a
girl he had liked for ages, "Hey... bread needs butter, baby" and
it seemed to do the trick! It's inspired many of the people I have
worked with to explore poetry, which they would have otherwise felt
was "not for them".
Please tell us a secret and something important thing
I was signed up for the Poor Clare nunnery and studied theology
at university (I had aspirations to be a sultry mother superior!).
Luckily I had a radical feminist theology tutor who taught us all
about goddesses and the history of women in religion - after that I
decided I was more suited to being a wild warrior witch than
a nun! Although I often think that what I do is not so
dissimilar to running a convent - working with groups of women,
lighting candles and incense , chanting, exploring our
spirituality, reflecting and sharing our journeys
I think poetry is juicy and sexy. It also got me noticed by my
new girlfriend who read my book and loved the poem called What I
Want… so much so she emailed me and said, "I am the girl to give
you want you want!" Who says poetry is dull and only the
domain of dusty old professors?
For more information on Clare's poetry readings, workshops and
retreats, and to buy her book, Love, Hope and High Heels, visit her
web site at www.clarecampbell.org
Bread and Butter
I was minding my own business
reading the love letters of Vita and Virginia
when all worlds collided
at the corner of Hope Street.
In she swaggered
my own sapphic drama
an old-fashioned girl
cigarette rolled behind ear.
She leaned over
sponge needs custard
cake needs cream
bread needs butter.
I loved that.
I was fresh custard
rock salt butter
melting before her
she was Victoria sponge
rich Irish soda bread
we had our
and ate it.
Someone said she shaped you
you will never forget her
they were right.
I refuse to be sad
for the rest of my life
it's just some days
I sense her everywhere
imagine the hum
of her old white Ford
as it pulls up underneath
Falkner Street Georgian windows
see her sitting on the steps
of our house on the hill
catch the smell of her cigarettes
her soft cynical voice
a running commentary
the reassuring feel of my face
buried in her well-worn jumper
and on those days